Find a Cure for Open World Fatigue on the Waterfront of Limbo

'The Exile on the Long Shore' is a spare, small game that evokes rather than overwhelms.
October 23, 2017, 3:32pm
All images captured by editor, courtesy scarletCatalie

Free Play is a place where we write about interesting, entertaining or enlightening free games you can play right now.

One of the great benefits of smaller games is sparseness. The past 20 years of commercial game development, after all, has been largely spent on making worlds bigger and putting more stuff in them. I have more than once been sucked into a conversation where someone extols the virtues of how many items are in each house in The Witcher III, for example, and that should tell you something about how we engage with the medium of the video game.

The Exile on the Long Shore is one of those refreshingly sparse, small games that act as a kind of general antidote to the maximal impulses of contemporary games. The player is, presumably, the exile. The exile wanders around a world, interacting with objects and people, but generally just taking in this place that they have been exiled to. There's no extensive lore to absorb, and there's nothing to do other than walk around and see the world around you.

The Exile on the Long Shore is engaging, though, because of how it evokes its world. It does not demand that the player have some kind of encyclopedic knowledge of a space (and, in any case, that seems impossible here). Instead, the only thing for the player to do is walk amongst the pixelated detritus, occasionally witnessing a floating crystal or talking to a person. Sometimes the world warps, taking us to another place (the place you were exiled from?) before dumping the player back to the shore again.

One of the most beautiful experiences you can have in a game is the feeling of "what happened?" Immersive sims, as a genre, sustain their narratives almost completely on the feelings of awe and confusion about what happened in a time or a place. Exile's pixelated graphics, powered by Bitsy in the same way that Cemetery Walk is, further obfuscate this world while distancing a player from it. Not only does the game force you to ask about what happened, but it withholds the potential for discovery in a very tactical way.

This is the power of the small, sparse, graphically simple game: it can give you a whole world, and you remain unsure about what you have been given. It evokes, but it does not deliver, and that leaves the best parts up to the imagination.

You can play The Exile on the Long Shore in your browser over at itch.io.

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